day 25: the 25th day…

…and it felt like the 25th day out of 25. The feeling of everything being over, fizzling out like a wet firework, just sat all over the whole day. I hadn’t had enough sleep; there was nothing really left that I wanted to see; basically, nothing much that I especially wanted to do except pack up and go home.

I didn’t even get up in time to flyer for the lunchtime show; how it is that an audience of about 20-30 nice people turned up is beyond me. I did my act in what seemed like its most perfunctory form, the audience laughed and clapped happily, Jay sang songs and Tony told his stories for the final time of the festival…and then we were done.

All I could really manage in the afternoon was to sit and read and write a bit. For about an hour I sat, hidden away upstairs in a cafe and read some of Book 2 of the Gay Science – I owe a fair amount of my remaining sanity to those pages – but no sooner was I starting to enjoy the confused feeling of Nietzsche’s wonderfully feministic male chauvinism, than I could feel my eyes closing and I had to go back to the flat.

More than anything, I’m just physically and emotionally wrecked. A full run at the Edinburgh festival puts every emotion and faculty you have right through the wringer – happiness, sadness, self-worth, love, desire, friendship, fear, resentment, rage, disgust, compassion, elation…everything is heightened and pushed to its limits. I’ve spent the last week and a half fluctuating between euphoria, heartbreak and nausea, for no apparent reason other than that I’ve just been so tired.

Now I come to think of it, drinking every day – however slowly – and only getting three or four hours sleep a night probably doesn’t help.

So I sat in my room in the flat for a while, just feeling relieved that the whole thing is over. I went out briefly, into the dark, chilly autumnal evening, to collect our remaining things from the venues and to tell any prospective audience about the decision Tony and I had made not to bother with the evening show; I sat in a kebab shop and ate a chicken kebab on my own, and summoned the last strength I had to make the most of the last few hours.

And it really was a good last few hours: I saw old and new friends I didn’t think I’d see again before the end of the festival (if ever) – Bobby, Nick, Paul, Mariel, Georgina; I had conversations I hadn’t expected but genuinely appreciated; said goodbyes, and went home to pack.

And so – at least until next year – it’s all over.

CTD: Audience – surprisingly they actually existed; Performance – going through the motions one last time (6/10)

SSS: cancelled

Other stuff: see above

Overall, I’m too tired to care about wins and losses any more…

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day 24: grind, reduce and judge

One of the biggest problems with stand-up, and particularly in Edinburgh, is the way complex people, personalities and situations become condensed and reduced until almost nothing of the original remains.

A whole personality, a whole life, is reduced to a month’s work; each night, that work becomes reduced to somewhere between 5 minutes and an hour of a show; that show is watched and reduced into a few sentences of a review; and that review judges and ascribes value – often an entirely spurious numerical value in terms of ‘stars’ or something similar (because we are numerate capitalists, and can only think of value in numerical terms).

Even when a judgement is more detailed, it can be pretty wide of the mark. Take, for example, this particularly malicious reporting of Stewart Lee’s routine about Richard Hammond. I wrote about the routine back when I saw it because I thought it was one of the finest satirical routines I’ve ever seen, but the Daily Mail, being the slithery nasty filthy bastards they are, have wilfully taken the whole thing out of context, purely in order to make everyone’s lives worse. It’s not that they don’t get the joke; it’s that they get it and they know they can get an easy shock out of it. It’s repulsive.

All of which is a preamble to the fact that our review from threeweeks came out last night. This is what it said:

Scurvy Stand-up Showcase – Free

Scurvy Comedy

It’s in the nature of showcase events that they are of mixed quality and vary from night to night, but the idea is that you get some real dross at the same time as discovering something special. The problem with this show, at any rate on the evening I went along, is it has the former but not the latter. The best act was the former teacher Charlie Duncan, Nietzsche t-shirt proudly on display, but he only stood out because the others were all fairly mediocre. Mediocre, that is, with the exception of the guitar-based comedian, who was worse than awful. But, who knows, there might be a better selection some other evening, so why not try it out?

Laughing Horse @ The Newsroom, 6 – 30 Aug, 8.45pm, free, fpp 94

tw rating: 3/5

I’d like to be pleased that they said I was good, but I don’t think a positive review really counts when it has to be qualified by the phrase “…but he only stood out because the others were all fairly mediocre.” I’m also a little bothered by them calling me a “former teacher” – it just makes me wonder if someone at threeweeks knows something I don’t. Perhaps they’ve seen the number of students enrolling for my courses this year…

What is particularly galling is that the reviewer obviously came on a bad night, because they refer to a “guitar-based comedian” who was “worse than awful”. But if they mean Loz, he had very few bad nights, and for most of the shows he was so good that nobody could really follow him. There is no way that “worse than awful” is an accurate summary of his festival run. And yet, there it is, on paper and ether, floating around the city.

But this is not rare, and it’s essentially part of a wider phenomenon of contexts and details being ignored. To get to know people in any satisfying way takes time. And in a three-and-a-half-week festival there are a lot of people to meet – and judge – and not enough time to do it in. Corners get cut; real conversations become rarer and rarer. I’ve had a few remarkable exceptions to this rule during this festival, but it does have to be a pretty remarkable connection to really feel like you’re getting to know someone. So, as a rule, everything which might have had meaning is summarised until meaning vanishes; lives are condensed, and souls are ground down to almost nothing. Two of the friends I’ve met here could even refer to me just by a number (for Jay I’ve become number 8; for Mariel, number 4)…

So, yesterday was another day in which I met people who summarised me, and themselves, and made a judgment which may or may not have been the right one. I mostly did pretty well out of it – I got okay laughs in the evening show, and I got a big cheer at Sweet Heart just for walking on stage and not being the ordinary compere (who was having a terrible gig and needed to leave, so they roped me in to introduce the last few acts).

So, judgments are made and stuck to, and that is that. I just wish, sometimes, that there was more time.

But there never is.

CTD: cancelled (due to there being no audience)

SSS: Audience – medium-sized and surly; Performance – solid, though they didn’t go for the more controversial bits because I didn’t think them through right (5/10)

Open Mic Night at Sweet Heart: Audience – drunk; Performance – considering I’d had a drink and was roped in at the last minute totally unprepared, pretty good (7/10)

Other Stuff: Unpredictable; chancy; often good.

Overall: Neither a win nor a loss. It just was what it was.

day 23: a typically good day

Up until the last few days, I’ve done pretty well so far to keep the days separate and distinct, so that very few of them became ‘typical’.

But if the last few days were becoming fairly typical bad days, yesterday was typical of the kind of good days I was having for the first two weeks. I did four really good performances at four nice shows, and spent the evening with lovely people.

The lunchtime gig went nicely; Jay finished his set with ‘Moon Chavs’ – it’s his most well-known hit, it ends in a big singalong and before the festival I would have been uncertain about whether I could have followed it. But I started getting laughs pretty much straight away, turned in a strong performance and finished the gig happy.

There was just time for me to stop very briefly for coffee with Bobby Carroll and Luke Graves before going to the Beehive to do the Comedy Manifesto, which was packed out as usual. I was probably the slickest I’ve ever been there (though I didn’t have answers to all the questions) and Jools and I won the show.

It also gave me just enough time for a pleasant walk across town with Rob Deb, whose show I will have missed this year for the first time in four years (because it clashes with our evening show), to get to the Grape.

The Grape is where Katerina Vrana and Sarah Pearce are doing an afternoon show, and it is possibly the worst room for comedy I have ever seen. The idea that Peter Buckley Hill was given an award yesterday for booking comedy shows in rooms like The Grape is unbelievable; poor Katerina should be given that award for having to compere in there throughout the festival. It feels like a hotel foyer bar (because, as Dan McKee pointed out, it is a hotel foyer bar), there is a noisy restaurant bar just the other side of a curtain, the ceilings are ridiculously high so all the laughs disappear, and there are enormous shiny pillars around the place. I got a few laughs for pointing out that the high ceilings and the shiny pillars make it look like a giant’s poledancing club, and then gyrated around the pillars in a way that I can only assume looked funny because I, a human being, am relatively tiny in comparison with a poledancing giant. But it was the kind of gig where most of the audience weren’t going to laugh anyway, so there was nothing to lose. I even did my ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’ bit for the three or four people who loved it; it was just fun to play for them.

And then our evening gig was just incredible. The audience were really up for a great show; Henry Paker was a great opener, and I went on right after him and had an absolute stormer. Everything went right; my timing and wording of the jokes was spot-on; basically, I was on fire. I was so hot, in fact, that just as I was about to deliver my last line, the fire alarms went off and we had to evacuate the building…

I went and had dinner with my Mum after the show, who was stopping by on her way back home from Iona; it was really good to see her, and especially good that we had dinner at the Balmoral Hotel, which was the first properly nice food I’ve had in ages.

After putting my Mum on the sleeper train back to London, I had a slight feeling of sadness as I walked home; I realised that I’d had a pretty good day, but there are still very few people in Edinburgh I could really tell about it. There are one or two people that I’ve got on really well with; possibly even too well, because I’ll miss them when the festival is over; but I really wanted to talk to somebody outside the festival and I had a feeling that Nan would be too busy with her dissertation and I didn’t want to disturb her.

So I called my friend Natalie, who is (and always has been) some kind of genius at knowing exactly what to say; I was so cheered up after talking to her that instead of going home I stopped at the Meadow Bar where I ran into a whole bunch of lovely comedians and got to watch Michal Grobelny perform one of the most brilliantly, gloriously confrontational sets I have ever seen. He was wearing a baseball shirt and cap, and mentioned backstage that people had been asking him all day if he was American, so he was going to be American for the show. And after the previous act had bored the room into silence, Michal bounded onstage yelling “HEY, YOU FUCKIN’ FAGGOTS!” and then howled out one of the most willfully obnoxious and distasteful sets I think I’ve ever seen, largely just shouting at a Scottish man in the front row about how much he hated Scotland and Scottish people and wished they would all fuck off. About two people in the room got it, the rest just sat in shocked silence.

It was genuinely glorious.

And, after a trip to the Library Bar that was probably ill-advised, I went home a bit drunk and no longer unhappy.

CTD: Audience – good, most seats full; Performance – solid and strong (7/10)

The Comedy Manifesto: Audience – jammed as usual, people sitting on the floor…; Performance – winning (7.5/10)

Comedy at the Grape: Audience – about 40 people, in a room which made it feel half-empty; Performance – not heavy on laughs, but lots of fun and as good as could be expected (7/10)

SSS: Audience – full; Performance – best yet…until the fire alarms went off, and then I got the biggest walk-out ever (8/10)

Other stuff: Mostly pretty good

Overall: WIN

day 22: unfulfilled potential

What to say about yesterday?

It was a day of unfulfilled potential.

When I was lazy as a teenager, I used to pretend to myself that there was some kind of glory in unfulfilled potential, as if being capable of something and not doing it was somehow cool.

I’m better now, more complete; and I know that isn’t true.

Yesterday’s evening gig was horrible – true, it got laughs, all the way through, and not necessarily from an especially generous audience even. But I could have really torn the place apart, I could have really done well, and I didn’t. Because I wasn’t thinking about my act fully enough, and I hadn’t spent enough time preparing.

I was scatty; I didn’t go neatly between bits of material; I referred to the unprofessionalism of my performance; everything about the act was as unprofessional as it could get while still somehow getting laughs. The problem is not that I was bad; the problem is that I could have been so much better and wasn’t. Perhaps I’m just getting tired and jaded…

At least I got to see ‘Sammy J in the Forest of Dreams’ after the gig. That was good.

CTD: Audience – medium, seems to be picking up toward the weekend; Performance – poor at first, but an audience riff about shaking everyone’s hand got them back with me and after that it went well (6/10)

SSS: Audience – small; Performance – lazy. Competent, just lazy (3/10)

Other Stuff: Should perhaps be measured more on what didn’t happen than what did. It was basically just another day in which it rained, I flyered and did gigs and not much else occurred…

Overall: LOSE

extra post: songs of edinburgh 09

Before I forget – and for anyone tragic enough to take an interest in this sort of thing – I thought I’d compile a quick playlist of songs that I will probably now always associate with this year’s Edinburgh festival, either because I’ve heard them a lot, or because they either made me want to laugh. Or cry. Or both.

If it occurs to anyone that I have forgotten anything, let me know. Please also forgive that these seem to be almost exclusively by male solo artists, and do not take from this that I am disparaging women or their ability to write songs.*

Anyway, these are the songs:

  • ‘There’s Always Someone Worse Off Than You’ by Lawrence Francis
  • ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ by Bonnie Tyler
  • ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe
  • ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’ by Michael Jackson
  • ‘Wild Theme’ by Mark Knopfler
  • ‘The Number 7’ by James Sherwood
  • ‘Teenage Kicks’ by the Undertones
  • ‘Hello, My Name Is Charlie’ by Gavin Osborn
  • ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher’ by Jackie Wilson
  • ‘Heartbeats’ by Jose Gonzales
  • ‘Tonight (Part 1)’ by me
  • ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ by Bob Dylan

I am prepared to accept that this would make a pretty disastrous mix album.

*I don’t want to end up like The Fix

day 21: climb on

I climbed Arthur’s Seat yesterday. Arthur’s Seat is the huge rock that sits in the middle of Holyrood Park, overlooking the city; and if you’ve never climbed to the top of it during August, you haven’t really seen Edinburgh.

The lunchtime gig had been pulled after only two people showed up, and I was feeling pretty down for a heap of reasons. Tony suggested that instead of doing the show, we just use the time for a short rest, and after that I felt a bit better; but I needed some fresh air to blow the listless melancholy away.

So I walked to the park and started climbing.

I think I was initially only intending to climb the crags, but my intent isn’t always in charge and before I knew it, my legs were taking me up the rocky track that leads to the summit. I stumbled a bit at first, but took the right paths; and that meant I caught a lucky tailwind that pushed me higher as I climbed. This could be a metaphor of my festival in some ways; like my luck in the festival, though, that same wind made it pretty hard to stay steady when I reached a high point, and even harder to go back; the west wind, like the “storm blowing from paradise” in Benjamin’s wonderful description of the Angel of History, held me up and pushed me on.

And when I reached the summit, I sheltered from the wind in a crack in the rock and looked around. The view is immense. To the northeast is the North Sea, black and cold; to the northwest, the city and its festivals, the big top by the playground in the meadows, the shows and the thoughts and the moronic idiocy of it all. And to the south, a layer of mist on the hills – and somewhere beyond that mist, thoughts of England – and London. For comedians, Edinburgh is the thrilling and shifting and unpredictable lover we entertain in the summer; but London is our family at home, permanent and fixed, always ready to take us all back in September with comfortable, indifferent hospitality…and it’s nearly time to go home.

Everyone has to come down from the mountain eventually. Me, I just went back to the flat, listened to some music that pushed down on the parts of me that hurt, and fell asleep for a few hours.

Today marked both the physically highest and emotionally lowest points of the festival for me. I think there are higher points yet to aim for; the only thing to do from here is to keep climbing…

CTD: cancelled

SSS: Audience – about 20; Performance – adequate, but not special. I was closing the show, and it needed to be more special to close the show properly, but I just didn’t have the energy to build any momentum (6/10)

Other Stuff: Yes, I’m climbing. But I just feel like it’s filling time, now.

Overall: feels like a LOSE

day 20: why heraclitus is often pictured weeping

Heraclitus, Johannes Moreelse ca_ 1630

Heraclitus of Ephesus, the philosopher of change, of waxing and waning, of impermanence, who pointed out the transience of all life, is frequently portrayed weeping or looking sad.

What a big girl, huh?

Except that he wasn’t; in fact he was the opposite – hard enough to have understood how heartbreaking it is that time, and life, and opportunities, are always changing and fading away.

Nowhere is this felt more than in the third week of the Edinburgh festival. What seemed just a few weeks ago to be so full, brimming with opportunity and fun and mesmerising joy, turns so quickly to emptiness; it all fades to nothing.

By Tuesday of the third week, it seems, things are starting to feel…over. The evenings come earlier; the weeping drizzle feels colder; most of the comedians feel jaded and just want to go home. We’ve been here twenty days, now, gigging and flyering and drinking and and it’s enough. Three weeks without a break is enough for anyone, surely…

Our lunchtime show was passable. Tony rattled off his stuff again, as did I; thank God some of Jay’s stuff is new to us or we’d be fully insane by now. I hadn’t flyered because after seeing Kitson, I had spent most of the previous night either human beatboxing for Brett Goldstein and Nick Helm to rap over, or talking to friends about all kinds of thoughts that wavered in turn between meaning and meaninglessness, and not really got any sleep. I slept through the morning and couldn’t flyer, so our audience was small, and my performance was lazy.

The afternoon was full of sunshine and passed quickly; I met a friend for coffee and didn’t feel tired as I arrived; but as I left the cafe┬áto go and flyer for the evening show, the skies darkened and the sun gave way to rain again. It felt like the summer had ended, suddenly and apbruptly, and I couldn’t honestly say I gave the flyering my best effort before I went off to do my slot at Jokes From The Underground. That slot went well; but when I got to the Newsroom, Tony had made a decision to pull our show when there was hardly any audience turnout. It was the right decision.

Change feels sad. Change at the kind of pace that happens at the Edinburgh festival is, if anything, both sadder and more dizzying.

Heraclitus understood this; and he wasn’t wrong to shed a few tears.

CTD: Audience – tiny; Performance – competent, if tired (6/10)

Jokes from the Underground: Audience – tiny; Performance – good, including an improvised bit of taking an audience member behind a curtain for a ‘private joke’. Improvising funny ideas is pretty good. (7.5/10)

SSS: cancelled

Other stuff: ask me when things stop changing

Overall: LOSE